The debate over how to crack down on foreign Web sites that steal U.S. content or sell counterfeit goods took yet another turn late Friday. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he plans to remove domain name system blocking, a controversial provision, from the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Smith's move is yet another sign that opponents to SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate have shifted the debate in their direction. On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.) and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee made a similar shift in position on the Senate bill (PIPA).
Smith said he made his decision after hearing from "groups across the country."
"I feel we should remove domain name system blocking from [SOPA] so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign Web sites canot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers," Smith said in a statement.
Faced with strong opposition to SOPA during its markup in the Judiciary Committee at the end of the year, Smith was forced to suspend it. The Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a date for when it will continue the markup. Next week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary and one of the lead opponents to SOPA used his authority as chairman of the House Government Oversight and Government Reform to call a hearing to examine the impact of DNS and search engine blocking practices on the Internet.
Public interst groups applauded the shift in the debate, even as they pushed for even more changes. "It appears that lawmakers are beginning to realize how much damage their anti-piracy bills could cause to the Internet and to Internet-related businesses," said Sherwin Siy, the deputy legal director of Public Knowledge. "While we are pleased that some progress is being made, we are also firm in our opposition to both bills because some very bad provisions remain."
Opponents are lining up behind an alternative bill, called OPEN, offered by Issa and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).